In last weekend's District 11 Class AAA Championship, the Tamaqua girls' basketball team not only made a huge statement, they also left a lasting impression.
With a 46-42 overtime victory over 11-time defending champion Allentown Central Catholic, the unbeaten Lady Raiders (27-0) claimed their third consecutive District title (and first ever Class AAA Championship) in a game that will be defined as one of the biggest wins in Tamaqua basketball history.
Now, the Lady Raiders face their biggest challenge yet – putting that game behind them and refocusing on what lies ahead … the PIAA State Playoffs.
"The good thing about the State playoffs is you get a week off to prepare. It also gives us a little bit of time to come down off our high (from the ACC game)," stated Tamaqua head coach Joe Berezwick. "We had some scrimmages set up this week, which gave us a chance to refocus and prepare for Scranton Prep."
Tamaqua, which has qualified for the State playoffs for the third consecutive year, enters Saturday's first round contest against Scranton Prep having won 34 of its last 35 games. The game will take place at Martz Hall in Pottsville (4:30 p.m.), where the Raiders have won 11 consecutive games, dating back to 2009.
Scranton Prep, the third seed from District 2, will be making its first State playoff appearance since 2007. The Classics (21-5) defeated Valley View 40-32 in last Saturday's District 2 third-place game to qualify for the State Tournament.
Prep's five losses this season have all come against State playoff contenders, including AAA West Scranton twice (24-1), AAAA Abington Heights twice (18-6) and AAA Holy Redeemer (18-7).
"They're a very disciplined and well-coached team," stated Berezwick. "However, when you get into the State playoffs, you kind of get out of your comfort zone because you're playing teams that you're unfamiliar with. Basketball is basketball, but there are certain styles and types of play that you become accustomed to over the course of the season. State play offers a change of scenery and it's the teams that can adapt to that the best that move on."
Scranton Prep is coached by Lackawanna League legend Ross Macciocco, who in 28 years as Dunmore's head coach compiled a record of 528-216. Macciocco took over at Scranton Prep last season and guided the team to a 13-11 record.
The Classics have a defensive-minded approach, a trademark of any Ross Macciocco squad. Prep, which allows just 32.3 points per game, has held 13 of its 26 opponents this season to 30 points or less.
"They're a very good defensive team and they switch up their schemes a lot during the course of the game to try to confuse you and throw you off. They play a lot of 1-3-1 zone, man-to-man and they like to press, so that's going to present some challenges for us."
The Classics start four seniors and have no one in their starting lineup averaging double-figures. Lindsey Schroth (5-9 senior) is their leading scorer with 9.8 points per game, while 5-10 senior Liz Schultz averages 9.4. The rest of their starting lineup includes: Tricia Byrne (5-6, Fr., 7.1 ppg), Catie DiBileo (5-8, Sr., 6.4) and Maggie Ware (6-0, Sr., 6.4). Ware is their leading outside shooter with 18 three-pointers on the season.
"They're very balanced, they spread the scoring around and they have multiple weapons that we have to concern ourselves with," added Berezwick. "When I look at them, I see a mixture of Jim Thorpe (with their athleticism, pressure and 1-3-1 defense) and Southern Lehigh (with their balance and the multiple looks they show against you)."
Tamaqua, averaging 54.3 points per game, will answer with seniors Amy Zehner (22.5 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game and 17 double-doubles), Cassie Eroh (12.3 ppg), Allison Updike (6.4), junior Kayla Hope (4.5) and sophomore Maria Streisel (5.7).
The winner of this game will advance to the second round of the State playoffs against the winner of Oley Valley (23-4) and Friere Charter (12-7) on Wednesday, March 16.